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Caledonia school officials fight charges - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Caledonia school officials fight charges

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ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. -

School starts in less than two weeks in Danville, but a court case will be the backdrop for back to school. "This is a travesty. Martha Tucker is a great superintendent," said Pietro Lynn, Caledonia Central Superintendent Martha Tucker's Attorney.

Tucker and Danville School Principal Noah Noyes set aside school year prep Monday morning to deny charges that they failed to tell the state about possible sexual abuse of a student.

"My client did everything right. He did everything he was supposed to be doing. He was very diligent and we'll let those facts come to light," said Chandler Matson, Noah Noyes's Attorney.

Police say a high school student told Noyes April 29th that a teacher rubbed up against her breasts and grabbed her backside. But the Department of Children and Families was not alerted until eight days later -- and it was by an adult not affiliated with the school.  Prosecutors say mandated reporters, like school administrators, must report suspected abuse within 24 hours.

"A student made a fairly serious allegation on a teacher and it wasn't reported within the statutory period," said Caledonia County Deputy State's Attorney Ben Luna.

Investigators say what happened during those eight days -- the principal launched his own investigation and consulted with the superintendent, who agreed there was no need to tell DCF investigators. Court papers show Martha Tucker told a detective: .. 'they have never had any concerns about {the teacher} of any kind, but lots of concerns about Victim #1 being a dishonest person.'   When Detective Decker asked, 'so people that lie can't get assaulted?' court papers show she said, 'they do get assaulted, but {administrators} had a 24 hour period' to investigate.

Investigators also say Noyes's investigation relied -- in part -- on security video from the school hallway.  But police say the incident allegedly happened inside a classroom. The video supplied to investigators is incomplete and the original is gone.  The security system records over old video every seven days. It's evidence investigators say they could have saved and used  if DCF was notified within the 24 hour reporting period.

"If it's not reported, evidence begins to disappear quickly, and the idea of that 24 hour reporting period to DCF is so they can determine independently whether or not there is reason to undertake an independent investigation," Luna said.

Both defense attorneys argue that school administrators actually have to investigate allegations first. They point to the state's anti-harassment statute. "I say that there is a statute in the SOV that compels school administrators to conduct investigations where there are claims of sexual harassment," Lynn said. "The school has no discretion, it must investigate."

But prosecutors say this case is about sex abuse and the harassment statute does not override a mandatory reporter's duty to tell DCF within 24 hours.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: That's a different statute, that is not this case, correct?

Ben Luna:  That is correct. That is not this case.

State Police say the investigation into the student's allegation against the teacher is still ongoing. No charges have been filed.

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